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Section 24.7 Ternary Form

Ternary form is usually diagrammed as ABA and is described as “statement, digression, restatement.” 1  A piece in a rather simple and straightforward ternary is shown below.

Green, Douglass M. Form in Tonal Music: an Introduction to Analysis. 2d ed., Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979, p. 84
Figure 24.7.1. Mozart, Andante in E-flat major, K. 15mm

Below is a diagram of K. 15mm by Mozart.

Figure 24.7.2. Diagram illustrating Binary Principle

Character pieces from the Romantic era with titles such as “Nocturne,” “Intermezzo,” and “Song Without Words,” among others, by composers such as Schubert, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms, are often in a larger ternary form where each section might be longer than eight bars.

Below are examples from a larger ternary piece, Rachmaninov's Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op.3 No.2.

Figure 24.7.3. Sergei Rachmaninoff, Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op. 3 No. 2, First A section bars 1–13
Figure 24.7.4. Rachmaninov, Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op.3 No.2, B section bars 14–42
Figure 24.7.5. Rachmaninov, Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op.3 No.2, Second A section bars 45–61

Subsection 24.7.1 Compound Ternary

A compound ternary is a ternary form in which one of the sections (the A or the B) is itself a binary or ternary form. Examples can be found in the minuet and trio as well as the da capo aria.

In the next section, we will examine the differences between rounded binary and ternary.